FEBRUARY 23, 2017
The Trump administration was well represented on the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington, D.C. The president’s beleaguered counselor, Kellyanne Conway, kicked off a morning session at the annual political event and a few hours later Education Secretary Betsy DeVos took the stage of the main ballroom of the Gaylord Resort in National Harbor Maryland just south of the capital. Both women have served as mainstream media punching bags lately and undoubtedly enjoyed a friendlier crowd at the annual powow. Conway ran President Trump’s campaign and spoke about what it’s like to work for the commander-in-chief.
DeVos, who recently endured hostile Senate confirmation hearings, joked; “I’m sure you heard all the wonderful things the media has called me” and reminded the crowd that she was the was the first to tell former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Minutes after DeVos spoke in the main ballroom, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Strategist Steve Bannon took the stage together. Always good for an entertaining soundbite, Bannon referred to the media as the opposition party and said “they’re corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda.” Reporters from virtually all of the nation’s mainstream media outlets sat in the back area cordoned off for press. Priebus countered rumors that he and Bannon are rivals competing for influence in the White House.
The big talk among the thousands of attendees, many of them college students, is the presidents much-anticipated appearance on Friday. Trump has spoken at CPAC many times, but only as a sort of entertainment figure. Now he’s the leader of the free world. “It’s very exciting to see a president, right here,” said a college junior from Nebraska. A Florida woman who hasn’t missed a CPAC in six years, predicts she won’t sleep tonight. “I thank God he won the election,” she said. “Can you imagine what would become of our country if he didn’t.” A similar feeling of enthusiasm filled the conference.
In the afternoon the event, which usually runs quite smoothly, became a congested nightmare because of security. An army of U.S. Secret Service agents set up shop, erecting checkpoints with metal detectors. Canine units strolled throughout the facility and panels were delayed from the original schedule. The Secret Service also conducted “sweeps” of the area where Trump will speak on Friday morning. Bags and purses were checked manually by uniformed Secret Service officers and everyone had to undergo two rounds of checks. “What do you expect, it’s the president,” said an elderly man from Nashville, Tennessee who’s planning to get up at the crack of dawn to get in the security checkpoint line extra early on Friday. Trump is scheduled to take the stage at 10:20 a.m.
In her Thursday morning appearance, Conway said that the energy surrounding Trump is so intense at the moment that “tomorrow will be TPAC when he’s here.”
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